Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Nomadic Improviser as a Reflection of the Musician and Society (audio included)

The nomadic improviser wanders from (and back to) the path of telos in a productive fashion. By doing so he exposes the uncanniness of the ‘there’ (Levinas’ ‘Il y a’) and re-presents it as the ‘given’ (Heidegger’s ‘Es Gibt’). Gary Peters, in his book The Philosophy of Improvisation, explains this process as a way improvisation might be liberated from the need to be constantly ‘new’; the familiar (or ‘there’) may be presented ironically and deconstructed, thus reframing it and drawing out its latent expressive potential (the ‘given’).[1]

Such a performance process may take the form of shifting between written (the telos) and improvised (the productive wandering) material; it may illuminate both the written and improvised passages in unexpected lights. My performance contains written segments that present themselves as moments to be deconstructed, leading to a series of improvised musings. Thus each presentation of the written material is framed by, and frames, the improvisations, creating alternate readings each time.

J.S. Bach’s use of the ritornello in the ‘concerto grosso’ form, as discussed by Susan McClary, is reminiscent of this process.[2] McClary argues that the alternation between the (largely) fixed ritornello and the episodic material expresses what Bach experienced as the increasing tension between the totalitarian-oriented, collective society and the idiosyncratic individual. Thus she is able to re-situate Bach’s music in the society in which is what produced. Allowing the music to express Bach’s time, place and opinions.

Perhaps my performance, with its productive wanderings, might be thought of as expressing my opinions on contemporary music production in modern society: both practices, the improvised and written, are illuminated as something different to what they once were.

Here's the audio performance I have that accompanied the presentation of this paper:

Body and Soul


Leppert, Richard and Susan McClary, ed. Music and Society, the Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Peters, Gary. The Philosophy of Improvisation. London: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., 2009.

[1] Gary Peters, The Philosophy of Improvisation (London: The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., 2009), 119.

[2] Richard and Susan McClary Leppert, ed. Music and Society, the Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception (Cambridge University Press,1990), 23.